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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Master hitter Robinson Cano must pace body without DH

As he shows Mets youngsters a thing to two about situational hitting.

New York Mets' Robinson Cano swings during a

New York Mets' Robinson Cano swings during a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves at First Data Field on Feb. 23, 2019 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

 JUPITER, Fla.

Next year, the Mets should just tell Robinson Cano to meet them on Opening Day. Have the uniform hanging in his locker. Get his breakfast order in advance.

Because this whole spring training exercise seems pointless for Cano, who needs more swings the way a shark needs a suitcase. If Cano is breathing, he’s hitting, and that was the situation again Saturday as he ripped a pair of singles to go with a laser-beam double off the centerfield wall at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

The numbers, through a dozen games, are pretty much what we anticipated. Cano is batting .457 (16-for-35) with two doubles and two home runs, spraying line drives with relative ease.

The main concern for Cano, however, is switching to the National League, and he asked manager Mickey Callaway to play in six consecutive Grapefruit League games to get accustomed to life without the DH. So far, so good.

Cano, 36, realizes it’s going to be more of a grind on the field, and that’s where this longer stretch of preparation comes in.

“I want to make sure my body gets used to it,” Cano said after the Mets’ 11-6 loss to the Marlins. “When the season starts, I don’t want to feel any soreness or anything like that in my legs.”

With that in mind, the one play that stood out Saturday was Cano lunging to make a backhanded stop on his knees on a grounder to his right. It was classic Cano, who fired a strong, signature sidearm throw. But he also took a few moments to get to his feet, and when he did, Cano flexed his right knee a few times before walking it off.

When asked about the play, a smiling Cano joked that he fell down. But those are the scenarios in which he feels he needs to push himself more in spring training.

With a bat in his hands, he’s nearly automatic down here. Business as usual. Diving around while wearing a glove, however, can feel more like work.

“Those are the ones that tell you how ready you are to play the season,” he said. “I want to go out there and show that I still care about this game, and how much I love this game. I feel like a young guy that has to go out there and do his job.”

Cano often feels the need to emphasize that he’s not here as a clock-watcher for the next five years, which is not unusual behavior for an older player, especially one who is pulling in $120 million during that stretch. But the best way to prove that is by performing on the field, and that shouldn’t be a problem for Cano if he can stay healthy.

Maybe Cano’s numbers are meaningless in mid-March, but what he’s done to get them has not gone unnoticed by the other Mets, particularly the younger crowd. On Saturday, Cano was in the No. 3 slot, sandwiched between Pete Alonso before him and Michael Conforto hitting cleanup. Conforto knocked Cano in twice, once with a two-run homer in the first inning and again with a single through the shift, punching a grounder through the vacated left side of the infield.

“The plus is I get to watch from a great spot,” Conforto said, referring to the on-deck circle. “I think I can learn a lot of stuff just from watching him. The way he uses his hands, the way he lets the ball get deep. He’s a guy that pitchers are going to look at and be worried about. I can learn from him, I can see what he does. I’m lucky to be able to do that — and he’s going to be on base a lot. He’s going to be standing on second a lot. So that’s another plus for me.”

Conforto described Cano as a “Steady Eddie,” the type of consistent run-producer that the 26-year-old outfielder aspires to be. Cano has played in at least 150 games for 11 of his 12 seasons, the only outlier being last year because of his 80-game PED suspension.

That’s a part of Cano’s past that he politely declines to talk about, and these Mets don’t hold it against him.

They’re more interested in what Cano brings to the table now, and the advice he can dispense from his dozen years in the majors. Aside from his offensive numbers, there’s value in that, too.

“I look back and remind myself how I used to go ask [Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams], all those veteran players that were around me, and they were available and accountable for whenever we had any questions,” Cano said. “Those are the things — the little bit I know — that I want to be able to pass it along to the young kids.”

Consider school in session when Cano is at the plate, and this spring training has been no exception. New team, same curriculum.

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